Sun Dec 13th, 2009 at 07:25:23 AM EST
Today (13 December), full high-speed service started on five European lines. Thus, 2009 is another year of major expansion, after 2007. However, that only because all but one of the five have been delayed.
There is one technology shared by all five lines: ETCS Level 2. The letter soup stands for European Train Control System (the main element of ERTMS, the European Rail Traffic Management System), which is meant to do away with a technical obstacle to trans-border traffic: the multitude of national signalling and train safety/control systems. The unproblematic Level 1 is more conventional, the troubled Level 2 uses wireless communication. In the past year, at last it gained some stability in regular use on three Italian lines (UPDATE: after already gaining it on lower-speed Swiss lines, see comments), now its use will be expanded greatly.
A German Railways (DB) ICE 3 runs towards Brussels on the Aachen-Liège line at twice the speed of cars on the parallel A3/E40 highway (row of street lights), near Welkenraedt, 26.09.2009. Photo reproduced with prior approval from RailPictures.Net © 2009 François Pobez. All Rights Reserved
Below the fold, an introduction of the EU's five new lines and one extra. In a few days, a sequel will follow with an overview of what else is in construction.
1. [Liège-]Chenée-Hammerbrücke[-Aachen] (HSL/LGV 3)
This 42 km, 830 million line completes the Brussels-Cologne "high-speed connection". In scare quotes because the designation isn't really deserved for a jumble of shorter sections of new tracks and upgrades. Yet, the old line was so slow that time savings were still significant.
The Brussels-Cologne corridor. Thick lines indicate the new high-speed lines (HSL 2, 3) and upgrades involving four-tracking (36N, most of ABS 4) or line speed raises. The Aachen-Düren section, which carries the load of Antwerp port freight traffic too, is to be upgraded at last for 160-200 km/h [UPDATE: the 200 km/h foreseen on a single section is apparently no more in the plans, I'm told by the map site owner] with some extra tracks.
Map based on Boris Chomenko's BeNeLux and Rhein-Ruhr area maps at Trainspotting Bükkes. Colors indicate voltages; see legend with next map
The model for Belgian high-speed line construction was that of France, which involves as short tunneling as possible on principle. Thus, the Liège-Aachen section is noteworthy for the 6,505 m Soumagne Tunnel (Belgium's longest), which accomplishes the climb from the river valley at Liège up to a plateau. But geology was no obstacle: in fact, the line was complete and ready for traffic in 2007. The problem was ETCS Lev 2.
I mentioned the cursed train control system in almost every diary on high-speed rail. ETCS Lev 2 applies third-generation cell phone technology. IMHO a fundamentally bad idea: for train control, you need to maintain a continuous, stable connection, but 3G wireless technology was not like that. The system was revised several times after unsatisfactory tests -- sometimes in parallel, leading to incompatible products.
The Liège-Aachen line was one of many lines that, for most stupid cost-saving considerations, was projected with ETCS Lev 2 alone (no fall-back) before the system was even field-tested. When the line was finished in 2007, yet another ETCS Lev 2 revision (2.3.0) delayed and complicated the retrofitting of trains. So German Railways DB's ICE3 high-speed trains put the line in revenue service only on 14 June 2009. From today (13 December), the TGV-derived trains of the international Thalys consortium (running Paris-Brussels-Cologne/-Amsterdam services) switch to the new line, too, cutting 29 minutes from the Brussels-Cologne schedule (to 1h47m).
Liège also got a grand new main station designed by Spanish star architect Santiago Calatrava, Liège-Guillemins (also see Railway Cathedrals). It was completed and inaugurated on 19 September 2009, but in service earlier: Thalys PBKA 4322 stopped there on 21 July. Photo from Images des Chemins de Fer
2. Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam (HSL 4/HSL Zuid)
This international line shall see very heavy traffic. C. 133 km of the 162 km connection is new track.
Split in two: a questionable cost-saving measure was to leave away dedicated tracks (and AC electrification) between the Antwerp-Rotterdam and Rotterdam-Amsterdam sections; something repeated with the (also new) perpendicular Betuweroute freight line.
Map adapted from Trainspotting Bükkes
This line was first promised for 2005. There have been some construction problems, but the first major delay was caused by a project change (a court ordered a cut in place of a bridge for environmental reasons). Then the even bigger delay had nothing to do with fixed assets: a troublesome train manufacturer, and ETCS Lev 2 again.
Operator NS Hispeed called a tender for new trains for 250 km/h regional services, and went for the cheapest offer: Italian maker AnsaldoBreda's off-the-drawing-board V250 "Albatros". Trouble was, AnsaldoBreda was already heavily delayed with its previous order, the IC4 for Danish State Railways DSB, itself the result of mighty trouble with its priority project, the new E403 electric locomotive series for Italian State Railways FS (see comment in From Universal to Modular).
As temporary solution, locomotive-pulled trains were to run, but these had to be fitted with ETCS Lev 1. At last on 15 June 2009, 200 km/h regional trains began to serve the Belgian section, followed by 160 km/h trains (premiering the cool brand name Fyra, for "four" in Swedish[!]) between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Finally today (13 December), 300 km/h Thalys trains start service along the entire line -- with a catch: until the locomotive-pulled trains are replaced with the Albatroses, Thalys will run Rotterdam-Amsterdam at 160 km/h, too... Still, the other section was enough to reduce the Antwerp-Amsterdam time by no less than 56 minutes (to 1h12m).
E 186 115 (a Bombardier TRAXX 2E, see From Universal to Modular) and a train in Fyra colours on a Rotterdam-Amsterdam test run near Rodenrijs. Notice the slab tracks. Photo from NS Hispeed's gallery
I note finances are messy, too -- it's a PPP project. The price tag is 7 billion.
3. Novara-Milan (AV/AC Torino-Milano second leg)
Almost all high-speed lines built in Italy so far join up in a giant arc, from Turin to Salerno. The last three gaps are opened today (13 December).
High-speed lines in the Italian rail network. Connecting lower-speed dedicated tracks also shown (including those for the future Milan-Verona-Venice-Trieste line). Based on Trainspotting Bükkes's Italy map
The northernmost new section completes the Turin-Milan line (the first part was opened early for the 2006 Winter Olympics, see my then diary Alta Velocità), reducing runtime by another half an hour (to 52 minutes). This is the only line this year finished on time, but with a price tag ballooning to an unbelievable 2.9 billion for just 39 km -- a record 74 million/km. (The construction authority stopped posting spending figures in its monthly construction updates in the Berlusconi era -- I have dark suspicions...)
4. Bologna-Florence (AV/AC Bologna-Firenze)
Most traffic crosses the Apennines between Bologna and Florence. The new high-speed line is the third rail line in the corridor -- and the least compromising: it is in effect a tunnel chain, 71.5 km underground on a 78.5 km line (also see Tunnels).
Profile of the Bologna-Florence high-speed line. RFI diagram via FOL News
Water control has been rather poor during construction, explaining part of the 3-year delay. A total of 5.8 billion was spent -- another 74 million per kilometre cost.
Track authority RFI has a cunning PR strategy to increase the Italian rail speed record by minute amounts on each of its new lines. The current record, documented by RFI's above video still (via FOL News) is more special for having been achieved in a tunnel
The most important traffic carried by the line is Milan-Rome non-stop, running against what was the EU's second busiest air route in 2007. Exactly a year ago, the Milan-Bologna line (see Red Arrow to Bologna) already saved 37 minutes, and the then new non-stop runs another 29 minutes. This was enough to boost rail's share of the total road/rail/air market from 32 to 50%. And that shall jump again: Bologna-Florence cuts another half an hour (to 2h59m).
5. Gricignano-Naples (AV/AC Roma-Napoli last section)
The Rome-Naples high-speed line premiered 300 km/h traffic in Italy (see Alta Velocità again). However, it also premiered ETCS Lev 2 -- turning passengers into guinea pigs. Service started with just 3 train pairs and not so iffy scheduled times (long buffers for delays); transition to full-speed, high-frequency service took years.
In addition, the last 19 km was delayed until today (13 December): on one hand, there were significant archaeological finds along the section, on the other hand, a new station on the section had to be re-tendered. Now another 11 minutes could be cut from scheduled times (to 1h10m).
Honorary mention: [Ankara-]Esenkent-Eskişehir[-Istanbul]
Turkey started construction of a network of high-performance lines. These are only for 250 km/h and mixed-traffic, but, relative to the existing network, the ambition can only be compared with Spain's. The birth of the project was somewhat accidental: the country's most important line was to be upgraded, but when it became obvious that extensive alignment modifications would be needed, they went bolder and projected an entirely new line -- which gave people even bolder ideas.
This first 206 km section, c. 40% of the Ankara-Istanbul line, is in service since 13 March 2009, using trains made by Spanish maker CAF. More of this line, and two more to Konya and Siva are in advanced construction.
Above: a HT65000 high-speed train of Turkish Railways TCDD runs along the new line. Photo from TCDD
Below: TCDD showcases its new toys: a HT65000 on the new line in the cut, and a DM15000 diesel multiple unit (made by South Korean maker Rotem at its Turkish factory Eurotem) on the crossing old line, near Yunusemre. Photo from Radikal
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